By Imtiaz Gul
Friday Times, September 05, 2014
Will September 2 be remembered as a day when the elected Parliament gathered around its leader Nawaz Sharif in a loud and clear message of support for him and rejection of non-constitutional assaults on the system, led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri? Did the political unanimity in support of the current system deal the terminal blow to the games that they believe the mighty establishment mounts against them whenever needed? Will the Sharifs mend their exclusive style of governance in favour of inclusive democratic governance, as suggested by Aitzaz Ahsan and Javed Hashmi, or will the latter’s resignation snowball into a bigger crisis in the near future? Did the civilians finally upstage the military by demonstrating unprecedented unity, or do they have yet to go a long way in taking the bull by the horn? Will the parliament’s solidarity with Sharif consign Imran Khan in particular to gradual political obscurity or win Khan even greater support among the youth of the country?
Most of these questions sprang from the stinging, though extremely calculated, speech by Aitzaz Ahsan and the soul-searching narrative that Hashmi gave before tendering his resignation at the end of the first day of the landmark joint sitting of the Parliament.
Khalid Maqbool Siddiki, the MQM firebrand MP, also embarked on a similar tirade, saying “getting all family members elected to the parliament” is no democracy.
All these parliamentarians could go only this far; speak in support of the system because as of September 3, the core problems that lay at the heart of the current crisis remained essentially un-addressed – the resignation of at least Shahbaz Sharif, and a mutually agreeable mechanism to investigate election fraud and irregularities. Ahsan, Hashmi and Siddiqi, too, kept coming back to the June 17 Model Town murder of 14 PAT workers and the government apathy towards it. Why didn’t the prime minister visit the Parliament for 14 months and why did Imran Khan’s electoral fraud complaints remained unheard, they asked.
Ahsan also tore Imran Khan’s narrative into pieces by challenging his way of bringing reform. But the implied presumption of speeches by Ahsan, Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Maulana Fazlur Rehman still pointed to the military establishment’s “hidden hands” behind Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan, with Achakzai imploring the military to “act under the orbit of the constitution as real service to the country.”
Later in the evening, the Sirajul Haq-led Jirga (which also included the PPP trouble-shooter Rehman Malik) sprang into action to revive dialogue with Khan and Qadri as the latter’s supporters roamed in front of the parliament and the ministerial secretariat.
But September 3 began with PAT workers manning entry into the parliament and the secretariat. This also prompted Zahid Khan, the ANP Senator, to scream on the floor of the house and ask premier Sharif, sitting next to him, whether the government had any writ even in and around the Parliament and the government district.
Which ever way the so-called crisis ends needs to dissected to determine the losers and gainers.
The Establishment: The way most parliamentarians threw their weight behind the government only reinforced as well as underlined the grand political consensus against non-political forces, including the mighty military establishment. No doubt therefore that if at all sections of the military establishment conspired to remove the prime minister through the unholy alliance of Imran Khan and Dr Qadri, that conspiracy fell flat – despite the tragedy of blunders committed by Sharif and his hawkish aides. They were all also responsible for sowing bad blood when Sharif denied he ever requested General Raheel Sharif to “act as mediator and guarantor.”
Still, the grand political consensus simply upstaged the civilians in what is popularly known as the civil-military relationship for the simple fact that with every passing day in the painful democratic transition, options for the establishment are shrinking. And even otherwise, this establishment certainly cannot be oblivious to the unintended disastrous consequences of its meddling in politics.
Kleptocrats and Conformist Plutocrats: An end to the artificial crisis without Nawaz Sharif’s resignation certainly provides him and associates reasons to smile and sigh relief. Yet, the painful events certainly dented the socio-political status of the ruling kleptocrats (Sharifs, Zardaris, Gilanis, Shahs) and conformist plutocrats such as Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Jatois of Sindh, the MQM, Sheikh Rasheed, and many of those who have kept switching Muslim League factions as and when necessary.
Media Czars/Anchors: While the media proved its utility as an undeniable part of this democratic dispensation by keeping the viewers, listeners and readers informed, it suffered too and thus stood out as a major casualty too; sections of the electronic media and several journalists plus lobbyists masquerading as journalists and analysts associated with them stand out. Another big loser in this battle of egos among the combination of kleptocrats and plutocrats – highlighted by several twitterati. One of them said: the moment an anchor/journalist opens mouth you know who they belong to.
Rumours and unsubstantiated claims of tons of money flowing into coffers of certain media houses, anchors and analysts also added to the dismay of people at large, wondering how civilian and military agencies can dole out precious public money to individuals for narrow political objectives. Political parties as well as the religio-political group called Pakistan Awami Tehrik led by a maverick naturalized Canadian national also ostensibly dished out massive funds to favorites for running down rivals or eliciting favourable views.
Some of the analysts and anchors showed no qualms at all in spreading disinformation, releasing violence-inciting content and stoking fears of an imminent clash between security forces and protestors. Nothing could have been worse when these commentators and paid anchors/analysts turned their respective positions into partisan lobbyists.
Lastly, PTI and Imran Khan might have lost lots of sympathy and swing voters, who had seen in this youth-driven party a beacon of hope for reform. That is another casualty of the dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad.
Most probably a silver-lining is visible in the aftermath of what Islamabad endured for nearly three weeks; much-needed systemic governance and economic reforms climbing up the national political discourse.
This indeed translates into the most tangible gain for the shaky democratic transition with all political stakeholders speaking in unison for the need to govern the country through inclusive decision and law-making. It also underlined the quest for civilian supremacy – in itself a noble goal. But this authority is not an automatic given; it will only come in an incremental way and only through moral integrity, genuine practice in democratic ideals and a people-focused governance.
As pointed out even by many critics, Imran Khan can certainly claim credit for initiating a forceful national debate on the issue of drastic political economic reforms including a consensual revamp of the present electoral system. The PTI can achieve these objectives by:
a) translating its reformist vision into actions in KP (of course wherever possible), and
b) launching a sustained country-wide advocacy on these issues and thereby forcing other stakeholders to push reform to the top of their agenda.
Already, the PTI has made big strides in legislation including the Right to Information, Education, Health, Right to Justice, Accountability, autonomy to the police, institution of e-governance, and can certainly build upon it.
One would hope that all stakeholders draw lessons from the grueling episode which should serve as a humbling experience to all and convince them that the only way forward for Pakistan is democratic constitutionalism and people-focused political economy which treats all and sundry equitably rather than distinguishing between citizens based on their political, social and economic profile.
But the million dollar question is: is an end to the crisis in sight at all? The MQM’s threat to resign from the assemblies sounds ominous and points to a protraction of the impasse if the opposition jirga fails in persuading Imran and Qadri to give up their prime demand the resignation of the prime minister.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies